Coach Nathan Brown has named a 17-man team for Saturday’s sold out trial match against the Parramatta Eels at Maitland’s No.1 Sportsground.
It will be a new-look spine, with Kalyn Ponga named at fullback, Connor Watson and Mitchell Pearce in the halves and Slade Griffin starting the match at hooker.
Tautau Moga and Daniel Saifiti will both play their first match of the pre-season following off-season shoulder surgery, however Mitch Barnett will miss the match as a pre-caution (shoulder).
Saturday’s trial will be the final match before the season proper kicks off on Friday March 9.
“A good performance this week can help people start the year in first grade,” Brown told media on Tuesday.
“There are some spots that we’re pretty settled on and regardless of how certain people go this week, those guys need to know the coach has got confidence in them.
“One average team performance is not going to dictate team selection but on the other hand, for a lot of our other younger players that have had an easier run into first grade, they need to understand to be a good first grader, you’ve got to play consistently well for long periods, week in week out.”
The coach indicated he could bring some additional players into the team midway through the second half of Saturday's match.
“The last 15 minutes we’ll probably make a fair amount of changes, where for a good 50 to 60 minutes, we’ll have a main stable 17 and then whichever guys played really well in Reserve Grade, might get some first-grade in,” Brown added.
TRIAL MATCH TEAM:
1. Kalyn Ponga
2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall
3. Sione Mata’utia
4. Tautau Moga
5. Nathan Ross
6. Connor Watson
7. Mitchell Pearce
8. Daniel Saifiti
9. Slade Griffin
10. Jacob Lillyman
11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon
12. Aidan Guerra
13. Herman Ese’ese
14. Danny Levi
15. Chris Heighington
16. Jamie Buhrer
17. Jacob Saifiti
Tickets to this game have officially sold out. There will be a live stream of the match at newcastleknights.com.au.